Enhanced Student Service Keeps IT Budget Cuts at Bay

Every day, it seems we’re hit with another news story about devastating cuts to public funding for institutions of higher education. For that reason, I was not surprised when “Funding IT” emerged as the #1 issue for respondents to EDUCAUSE Review’s annual survey of IT leaders.

What’s most interesting, though, is the undeniable relationship between that issue and the #2 survey result, “Administrative/ERP/Information Systems.” With “Funding IT” holding the top spot, you’d better believe that IT leaders will be laser-focused on justifying and containing costs for administering core enterprise systems.

These systems typically represent large investments which, as reflected in the survey findings, have the potential to become even larger over time. For that reason, it might seem as though the only impact that survey result #2 could have on result #1 is a negative one – that the expense of deploying and maintaining core enterprise apps will only further deplete already thin funding sources. But, instead of wallowing in that defeatist perspective, I suggest seizing opportunities to better leverage those systems in order to fuel funding, not exhaust it.

The first step is to identify which areas of the university are getting funding. In almost every case, this is going to be some aspect of student service. In a budget crunch, money typically goes first to initiatives targeting enhanced student success.

Often, academic support and classroom technologies are the first areas where funding is directed to bolster student-facing initiatives. While those things are critical to student success, so is the efficiency and effectiveness of the core ERP or SIS applications that administrative staff and leadership rely on in supporting students.

But this is a two-way street. External funding, when available, is increasingly based on demonstrable student success. This means that before you can have new budgetary dollars, you have to prove how you have successfully used the systems that are already in place. Measures such as how administrative systems and services have helped drive noticeably faster (and increased) matriculation, as well as higher rates of retention and graduation, are both important to showing the value of these systems. Boost those things, and the funding and budget streams will begin to trickle back in, if not flat-out flow. Here’s how:

As I noted in an earlier post on enrollment processing and its impact on student service, one of the common shortcomings of an ERP or SIS deployment is the lack of integration with a complementary ECM (enterprise content management) system. Without a direct connection to a transaction-related document repository and document-centric workflow processing engine, your institution’s ability to optimize the ERP/SIS investment is seriously impeded. Not only is staff time being used inefficiently, but students and prospective students are being impacted by delays in administrative decision-making and response.

In another recent post, on the topic of decentralized IT administration, I noted the advantages of deploying enterprise platforms that, by design, allow for the distribution of some system administration and expansion to staff in the functional areas. Seamless ECM-to-ERP integration can help cushion the landing if IT funding at your institution continues in free fall. Moreover, putting some system administration responsibilities into the hands of functional area leaders – particularly on the enrollment side of the house – empowers those on the front lines of student service to tweak their systems and processes for optimal performance.

Granted, if you don’t already have these capabilities in place, additional cuts to IT funding may seem to put them further out of reach. But, don’t despair: the predictable cost savings and efficiency gains you’ll realize in administrative and IT operations, as well as in improved student service, should be compelling enough to justify at least a shift in current spending priorities, if not the actual securing of new monies.

So, make sure that your conversations about the viability of enterprise systems and of IT support for them do not stop with the topic of cost containment. In conversations with provosts, presidents and boards, IT leaders, along with key stakeholders in enrollment management, should repeatedly underscore ways in which these enterprise systems – in particular, ERP complemented by ECM – can help drive student success, generate revenue and thereby help secure/renew IT funding.

That’s the path to ensuring that survey result items such as “Funding IT” and “Administrative/ERP/Information Systems” rise to the top of your institution’s list of IT topics to discuss because of the positive impact the latter is having on the former.

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